Burying your dead without religion

One way to deal with this is to invent new ways of finding meaning, like getting a tattoo or personalizing a casket or urn. “Batesville is one of the largest American-made casket producers, and that’s something they’ve pushed: ones with ornaments on it, or golf balls, or guitars, or they have a deer because they guy was a hunter.” Wilde says he’s seen this desire for personalization most among Boomers, which he sees as part of tendency among that generation to push back against social norms.

A very small number of families are also arranging their dead in scenes that resemble life: sitting around in the kitchen, for example, or drinking a beer. Ironically, this echoes one of the customs of traditional Irish wakes, where celebrations are often held in the presence of the dead body. But for these newer, highly posed scenes, “there’s not many embalmers who could do that—it’s quite technical,” Wilde said. “To have somebody embalmed in a setting where they’re seated or holding a cigarette would be quite difficult.”

These ways of grieving might sound a little silly for older generations, but when it comes to kids, they’re heartbreaking. “People gravitate toward ritual much more when it’s of a tragic nature,” Wilde said. For families that aren’t religious, “we’ll find a theme of the deceased or of the child and use that theme. There was one that went through the news a couple years ago where a young person died and they had a Star Wars-themed funeral. There was one a little bit ago that had a Disney-themed funeral. The new ritual becomes personalization.”